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The Prayer Seeker


Mandy’s reaction surprised him, though it worried him just as much. She looked
impressed, as if he was telling her that he was giving up his job in order to go and do
good works, which wasn’t what it was at all. If anything, it might be the most selfish
decision he’d ever made. It still didn’t feel wrong, however. So he was almost glad when
the reactions of other colleagues proved less positive, though no-one mocked him,
something he was glad to discover. At the end of his month – the end of his working life,
perhaps – he could categorise the reactions of his fellow employees into three distinct
groups: those who were impressed, like Mandy; those who were gloriously indifferent,
whom he rather envied; and those who were baffled, and who perhaps even thought he
was a little mad. O f them all, he thought the third group might be the closest to the truth.
Clients of course were more p ractical. They expressed regret, mild interest in his
plans and an overwhelming desire to know who would be taking over from him. Primed
by Douglas for the latter circumstances, Michael was well able to put their minds at rest.
And that, in effect, was that.
Other matters also arose during that month, which for Michael were far more
important. He thought a lot, for one, about his faith, or lack of it, and whether that would
be significant. Because his current religious life, if he could even lay claim to one any
more, was this:
He went to church perhaps five or six times a year, on those occasions slipping in at
the back where nobody could bother him. Yes, he understood the tensions in his own
behaviour here, as he no longer spoke to or acknowledged his God in any other way, but
he could not help it. The pull was there, whether he liked it or not. St Mary’s was situated
in a village three or four miles away from where he lived and the necessity of having to
drive there pleased him. It gave him time to leave behind his current life and pick up the
shadows of another he’d once had. It positioned him outside the immediate local church
circle, a place of distance that he was glad to dwell in. After all, look where too much
commitment to a local church had brought him before. He couldn’t ever be that particular
young man again, he couldn’t go through those kinds of experiences a second time. He
wanted something very different. So, when the vicar of St Mary’s had asked him, about
two years ago, he’d gently refused the offer to join the electoral role or come to church
more often, and had maintained that stance ever since. He wondered what his twenty-year
old self would have thought of this, and what he might have said. He could imagine his
younger words would have been scathing, leaving no room for doubt or indecision.
Neither did he get involved with the prayer rota – something in his previous long ago
Christian life that he’d always done – or any other rotas the church had, as all churches
did. Although now and then, if the rather terrifying church warden asked him directly, he
would consent to be one of those who served coffees after church, on a date that was
convenient to him. He gave them no other inroads, and had no wish to, although he
would smile when serving coffees, and the odd tea, to the gaggle of nameless faces after a
service. Post-church coffee had always been something he hated, and probably always
would. An Anglican way, he told himself with a smile, of showing the people what
purgatory might be like, if they acknowledged such a place. The conversations were
always the same: the weather; the service, village life – though that of course he had no
real concept of. Douglas, he supposed, would accuse him of disengaging, and he might
well be right. Michael only stayed for as long as he had to, usually avoiding the coffee
crowd and disappearing through the side door to the safety of the car immediately after
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